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Raanta: Ready to be part of Winter Classic

by Antti Raanta

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta is preparing for his first Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. He's expected to back up starter Corey Crawford on Thursday against the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park, just as he did on March 1 in Chicago's Coors Light 2014 NHL Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Raanta agreed to offer up his opinions in blog form leading up to the main event.

CHICAGO -- Last year was my first outdoor game in the NHL, so that was a pretty unique feeling. How the winter was last year, it was snowing, so it made it even more fun. When you're a little kid, you always play outside and you always dream to be some NHL player or some hero, and you try to do those things, what you see them doing on TV.

Now it's going to be even more fun to be part of the Winter Classic.

It's a little more unique than last year, with all the TV cameras around, but it's still fun. You can see everybody's excited about that, even though they are not saying that. All the television cameras are around, and that lets you know you're getting ready for the game all the time.

Now you can start feeling that it's getting close.

When we go to Washington, I think everybody will start understanding what the situation's going to be and all that. When you see the rink built up in a great stadium outdoors, I think then you get that feeling that it's really going to happen. We have had lots of games, and of course, something else happened for us [the stunning death of former assistant equipment manager Clint Reif]. We haven't been thinking too much about the game yet, but I think now everybody will really start understanding why we're going there.

It's going to be a lot of fun. Last year I got some new gear for the game at Soldier Field and I got new gear again this time. It's not too much about the Winter Classic, though; I could actually wear them in any game, but the design is like an iceberg, so it looks like winter more than my usual gear. Last year, I had a really nice paid of pads, but they were black. Everybody was saying that we can't wear those in other games, but then somebody stole Crow's [Crawford's] regular gear that day, so he was wearing those black ones for three games after it

It's fun to get new gear and a new mask and everything. It's exciting for the goalies, like just after Christmas you get new gear and everything else. It's fun to go to practice with it, and you make a couple of saves and you feel like a new man again. They're always a little stiffer when you get the new stuff, but it's fun. There's always a lot of people commentating about the gear for the goalies, so it'll be fun to see what they think this year.

My mask has all three of the logos that we have on it. It's a simple one, but a little bit special for the Winter Classic. There's a skyline of Chicago. A lot of people like the mask and I can't wait to use it.

I won't have any of my family with me at the game. My mom, my dad and my brothers were here for 12 days, including Christmas, but they're leaving to go back to Finland before the Winter Classic.

My fiancée is going to fly to Washington with the other girlfriends and wives, so she will be there. It's going to be fun. Last year, she was watching the game and two of her friends came to Chicago the same day to be with her. I think they all watched the first period and went home because they didn't realize it was going to be so cold out there. She's from Finland, so she was all right, but those two friends didn't understand that it would be snowy and cold.

I knew straight away, when it was snowing so bad, that they were going to leave. I went home and asked, 'How was the game?' and she was like, 'We left after the first period.' But that's how it goes usually. Hopefully, she's going to watch the whole game now and have fun with the other girls and enjoy all the moments.

We're going to be on the ice together during the friends and family skate the day before. We just got new skates for her, so she's also excited to have new gear. She's pretty good. She's using, like, the real skates. Hockey skates. She's really good with those, but I remember three or four years ago, one day we went to skate and she got the figure-skating skates and she just flew straight away. She toe-picked and she, like, flew. After that she said she's never going to use the figure skates anymore.

I like to just go skate sometimes too. When we're here, we don't have much time to just go out and skate, but my last couple years in Finland, I'd go every time when we had a day off. I'd go to the rink, take lots of pucks and just start taking slap shots. It was funny. You get everything out of your system. You relax a little bit from that, so I like skating. It's fun to just go out with friends and play a little hockey.

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